Friday, December 29, 2006

Everything You Need to Know About the Blues...

A friend posted this on her blog, and I've got to pass it along. Thanks, Barbara!

How to Sing the Blues


If you are new to Blues music, or like it but never really understood the why and wherefores, here are some very fundamental rules:

1. Most Blues begin with: "Woke up this morning..."

2. "I got a good woman" is a bad way to begin the Blues, unless you stick something nasty in the next line like, "I got a good woman, with the meanest face in town."

3. The Blues is simple. After you get the first line right, repeat it. Then find something that rhymes - sort of:
"Got a good woman with the meanest face in town.
Yes, I got a good woman with the meanest face in town.
Got teeth like Margaret Thatcher and she weigh 500 pound."

4. The Blues is not about choice.
You stuck in a ditch, you stuck in a ditch...ain't no way out.

5. Blues cars:
Chevys, Fords, Cadillacs and broken-down trucks.
Blues don't travel in Volvos, BMWs, or Sport Utility Vehicles.
Most Blues transportation is a Greyhound bus or a southbound train.
Jet aircraft and state-sponsored motor pools ain't even in the running.
Walkin' plays a major part in the Blues lifestyle.
So does fixin' to die.

6. Teenagers can't sing the Blues.
They ain't fixin' to die yet.
Adults sing the Blues.
In Blues, "adulthood" means being old enough to get the electric chair if you shoot a man in Memphis.

7. Blues can take place in New York City but not in Hawaii or anywhere in Canada.
Hard times in Minneapolis or Seattle is just clinical depression.
Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, Memphis, and Nawlins are still the best places to have the Blues.
You cannot have the Blues in any place that don't get rain.

8. A man with male pattern baldness ain't the Blues.
A woman with male pattern baldness is.
Breaking your leg 'cause you were skiing is not the Blues.
Breaking your leg 'cause a alligator be chomping on it is.

9. You can't have no Blues in an office or a shopping mall.
The lighting is wrong.
Go outside to the parking lot or sit by the dumpster.

10. Good places for the Blues
a. highway
b. jailhouse
c. empty bed
d. bottom of a whiskey glass

11. Bad places for the Blues
a. Nordstrom's
b. gallery openings
c. Ivy League institutions
d. golf courses

12. No one will believe it's the Blues if you wear a suit, 'less you happen to be an old person, and you slept in it.

13.Do you have the right to sing the Blues?
Yes, if:
a. you're older than dirt
b. you're blind
c. you shot a man in Memphis
d. you can't be satisfied

No, if:
a. you have all your teeth
b. you were once blind but now can see
c. the man in Memphis lived
d. you have a 401K or trust fund

14. Blues is not a matter of color. It's a matter of bad luck.
Tiger Woods cannot sing the Blues. Sonny Liston could have.
Ugly white people also got a leg up on the Blues.

15. If you ask for water and your darlin' gives you gasoline, it's the Blues.
Other acceptable Blues beverages are:
a. cheap wine
b. whiskey or bourbon
c. muddy water
d. black coffee

The following are NOT Blues beverages:
a. Perrier
b. Chardonnay
c. Snapple
d. Slim Fast

16. If death occurs in a cheap motel or a shotgun shack, it's a Blues death.
Stabbed in the back by a jealous lover is another Blues way to die.
So are the electric chair, substance abuse and dying lonely on a broken-down cot.
You can't have a Blues death if you die during a tennis match or while getting liposuction.

17. Some Blues names for women:
a. Sadie
b. Big Mama
c. Bessie
d. Fat River Dumpling

18. Some Blues names for men:
a. Joe
b. Willie
c. Little Willie
d. Big Willie

19. Persons with names like Michelle, Amber, Jennifer, Debbie, and Heather can't sing the Blues no matter how many men they shoot in Memphis.

20. Blues Name Starter Kit
a. name of physical infirmity (Blind, Cripple, Lame, etc.)
b. first name (see above) plus name of fruit (Lemon, Lime, Kiwi, etc.)
c. last name of President (Jefferson, Johnson, Fillmore, etc.)

For example: Blind Lime Jefferson, Pegleg Lemon Johnson or Cripple Kiwi Fillmore, etc. (Well, maybe not "Kiwi.")

21. And I don't care how tragic your life is, if anyone in your family plays soccer, you can't sing the blues.

Four-Eyes Banana Bessie Wilson signing off...

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve sermon--Final


This is pretty much what I will be preaching this afternoon. It's in manuscript form and I'll be turning it into an outline, but here it is. Thanks to RevGalBlogPals for encouragement and goodies along the way!

Luke 1

Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! "But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? "For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. "Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord."

And Mary said: "My soul magnifies the Lord,

And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour.

For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.

For He who is mighty has done great things for me, And holy is His name.

And His mercy is on those who fear Him From generation to generation.

He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

He has put down the mighty from their thrones, And exalted the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things, And the rich He has sent away empty.

He has helped His servant Israel, In remembrance of His mercy,

As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and to his seed forever."

Will you pray with me? God of light, God of love, give us grace to open our hearts to receive you. May our spirits receive you with joy. Amen.

I don’t have to tell you, of course, that today is Christmas Eve. But actually, we’re not celebrating Christmas Eve this afternoon—that will come tonight at the 11 pm service. That’s because today is also the fourth Sunday of Advent, and we celebrate that first, this afternoon—and then Christmas Eve in the evening.

You see, just like in our scripture reading, Jesus isn’t here yet! Mary is praising God and reminding us of all the things God will do—God will do, soon. But not yet. Not yet. Mary is still journeying this afternoon, still on her way to that stable, and the star and the shepherds and the angels.

And I have to wonder—what is she thinking, this young first time mother, as she and her husband Joseph search for a place to rest, and as she prepares to bear her baby? What is going through her mind? Is she worried? Frightened? Excited? Curious? Or is she just tired and uncomfortable, and hoping they will find a place to spend the night soon?

I know what I was feeling, eighteen years ago, when I was expecting my son. Like Mary, I had never had a baby before. Like Mary, I did not know what to expect. For those of you who are not parents, let me tell you that this can be very scary. I didn’t know what it would be like to have a baby—what kind of pain there would be, how I would feel about actually being a mother, once the baby was born, how it would all happen. I took a childbirth class, I talked to my mother, my sisters, my friends, to see what their experiences had been. It will come as no surprise to most of you that I read books, too—about being pregnant, about childbirth, about taking care of a baby. I just didn’t know what to expect. And in many ways, those last few days were the worst. I was uncomfortable—you trying walking around with a beach ball attached to your stomach—I was thinking way too much about what might happen, and I was excited about the baby’s arrival, all at the same time.

I suspect Mary, too, felt some of those things. She probably talked to her mother or her aunts, or the other women in the village about what it was like—and they probably gave her lots of advice, only about half of it really useful, just like the advice I got. And she probably felt some other things that I didn’t have to worry about. Childbirth was a lot more dangerous in those days—many women died bearing children. She and Joseph may not have been financially very secure—Ben’s father and I had good jobs and health insurance, a house, two cars. So Mary was, maybe, more scared than I was. She may have wondered if she could take care of a baby. And then, she knew who this child was that she carried—she knew this was the child of God. I wonder if that made it easier for her or more difficult, to know that she was carrying God’s own child in her body? I wonder what was going through her mind as she waited.

We’re waiting too, aren’t we? Waiting with Mary, for the birth, for the arrival of the Child of God, now at Christmas and then sometime, when we don’t know, at the end of all times. We don’t know what those end-times will be like—we wonder, we make up stories, we talk about it with each other. Some of us think it will happen one way—like the “Left Behind” series of books; and some of us another way. There are so many interpretations and predictions. But, just like the first time that Jesus arrived on earth at Christmas, his return is going to be unpredictable, too. He tells us so—that no one knows the day or hour, only God. As I said a couple of weeks ago, God keeps promises, but loves surprises.

How will we know? What will it look like, when Jesus comes back? Will it be frightening or glorious? Will it be exciting or dangerous or very, very quiet?

God’s given us some clues, I think, in Mary’s song. The traditional name for this song that she sings to Elizabeth is the Magnificat, which is the Latin for the first words—“My soul magnifies God.” We heard the traditional translation this afternoon because it is so beautiful and familiar. But many of those words are difficult to understand, and so is the grammar. A very modern translation, from The Message by Eugene Peterson, reads,

“I'm bursting with God-news;
I'm dancing the song of my Saviour God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened—
I'm the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave
on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It's exactly what he promised,
beginning with Abraham and right up to now.”

Well, the poetry isn’t there, but the meaning surely is!

When we see the world turned upside-down, when the ones who have the least suddenly have the most, when the homeless are given mansions, when the people who are pushed to the margins are made the centre of attention, when the poor become rich and the downtrodden stand upright—then we know God is very near to us. When gay men are elected to Parliament, when lesbians govern universities, when bisexual men and women are heads of law enforcement and the military, when transgendered men and women control huge corporations, then we will know that God is near.

But wait! Some of those things are happening now, aren’t they? Hmmm.

God is coming very close to us—very close. Journalists have the five W’s and an H that they are supposed to cover in their stories—who, why, what, when, where, and how. What do we know? We know the who—the God of all nations—and the why—because God’s love is for all God’s children—but not the rest. We don’t know what it will look like, when it will be, where it will be or how it will look. But we know God’s time is coming.

Like Mary, we’re getting anxious. We’re not sure what it’s going to be like, and we’re a bit nervous. But, again like Mary, we trust God, and say, “As you will it, God.” And we wait. For a baby, and for—what? We don’t know. But God keeps promises, and God loves surprises.

God surprised the world once with a baby. Who knows what God will do next time? But we remember the birth of that baby, of God’s own child, Jesus, the one Mary is waiting for, Emmanuel, God with us.

In the many names of the one creating God who is with us always, amen.



Saturday, December 23, 2006

Christmas Eve sermon--Draft 1

Well, this is something I've never done before and am a bit nervous about, but here goes--this is the first draft of my sermon for tomorrow afternoon. I will be reworking it tonight and probably cutting it back to an outline of some sort.

Comments and suggestions welcome!


Will you pray with me? God of light, God of love, be present with us now as we prepare to receive you into our hearts. May our spirits receive you with joy. Amen.

I don’t have to tell you that today is Christmas Eve. But actually, we’re not celebrating Christmas Eve this afternoon—that will come tonight at the 11 pm service. That’s because today is also the fourth Sunday of Advent, and we celebrate that first—and then Christmas Eve in the evening.

You see, just like in our scripture reading, Jesus isn’t here yet! Mary is praising God and all the things God will do—God will do, soon. But not yet. Mary is still journeying this afternoon, still on her way to that stable.

And I have to wonder—what is she thinking, this first time, young mother, as she and her husband Joseph search for a place to rest? What is going through her mind? Is she worried? Frightened? Excited? Curious? Or is she just tired, and hoping they will find a place to spend the night soon?

I know what I was feeling, eighteen years ago, when I was expecting my son. Like Mary, I had never had a baby before. Like Mary, I did not know what to expect. For those of you who are not parents, let me tell you that this can be very scary. I didn’t know what it would be like to have a baby—what kind of pain there would be, how I would feel about actually being a mother, once the baby was born, how it would all happen. I took a childbirth class, I talked to my mother, my sisters, my friends, to see what their experiences had been. It will come as no surprise to most of you that I read books, too—about being pregnant, about childbirth, about taking care of a baby. I just didn’t know what to expect.

I suspect Mary, too, felt some of those things. She probably talked to her mother or aunts, or the other women in the village about what it was like—and they probably gave her lots of advice, only about half of it really useful, just like the advice I got. And she probably felt some other things. Childbirth was a lot more dangerous in those days—many women died bearing children. So she was, maybe, more scared than I was. She may have wondered if she could take care of a baby. More than that, she knew who this child was that she carried—she knew this was the child of God. I wonder if that made it easier for her or more difficult, to know that she was carrying God’s own child in her body?

We’re waiting too, aren’t we? Waiting with Mary, for the birth, for the arrival of the Child of God, now at Christmas and sometime, when we don’t know, at the end of all times. We don’t know what that will be like—we wonder, we make up stories, we talk about it with each other. Some of us think it will happen one way—like the “Left Behind” series of books; and some of us another way. There are so many interpretations and predictions. But, just like the first time that Jesus arrived on the earth at Christmas, his return is going to be unpredictable, too. He tells us so—that no one knows the day or hour, only God. As I said a couple of weeks ago, God keeps promises, but loves surprises.

How will we know? What will it look like, when Jesus comes back? Will it be frightening or glorious? Will it be exciting or dangerous or very, very quiet?

God’s given us some clues, I think, in Mary’s song. The traditional name for this song that she sings to Elizabeth is the Magnificat, which is the Latin for the first words—“My soul magnifies God.” We heard the traditional translation this afternoon because it is so beautiful and familiar. But many of those words are difficult to understand, and so is the grammar. A very modern translation, from The Message by Eugene Peterson, reads,

“I'm bursting with God-news;
I'm dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened—
I'm the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave
on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It's exactly what he promised,
beginning with Abraham and right up to now.”

Well, the poetry isn’t there, but the meaning surely is!

When we see the world turned upside-down, when the ones who have the least suddenly have the most, when the homeless are given mansions, when the people who are pushed to the margins are made the centre of attention, when the poor become rich and the downtrodden stand upright—then we know God is very near to us. When gay men are elected to Parliament, when lesbians govern universities, when bisexual men and women are the police commanders, when transgendered men and women control huge corporations, then we will know that God is near.

But wait! Some of those things are happening now, aren’t they?

God is coming very close to us—very close. There’s a list of what journalists are supposed to cover in their stories—who, why, what, when, where, and how. We know the who—the God of all nations—and the why—because God’s love is for all God’s children—but not the rest. We don't know what it will look like, when it will be, where it will be or how it will happen. But we know God’s time is coming.

Like Mary, we’re getting anxious. We’re not sure what it’s going to be like, and we’re a bit nervous. But, again like Mary, we trust God, and say, “As you will it, God.” And we wait. For a baby, and for—what? We don’t know. But God keeps promises, and God loves surprises.

In the many names of the one creating God who is with us always, amen.

Friday, December 22, 2006

123:5 Meme


Here's a new one, and I'm procrastinating on the sermon, so...

Through HipPastorzWife2B through Mary Beth from Songbird , as seen at The Vicar of Hogsmeade.

The rules are:
1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the next four sentences on your blog, along with these instructions.
5. Don’t you dare dig for that “cool” or “intellectual” book in your closet! I know you were thinking about it! Just pick up whatever is closest!

Dorothy Dunnett, King Hereafter

“And so he went to the top bench, where Thorfinn also was signalling him over, and where he sat down, as indicated, between an abbot from Devon and a bishop from Brittany. Thorfinn said, ‘I am not your brave sort of man who would enter into a marriage alliance without informing King Canute’s Queen, the Lady Emma. When she is in her dower town of Exeter, there is no one she leans on more than my lord Abbot Ealdred here, who rules Tavistock and all the trading ships moving from thereabouts over the sea, as far south as the river Loire—or am I exaggerating?’

‘You are,’ said the Abbot.”

King Hereafter is, as you may have guessed from the title, an historical novel about the “real” Macbeth. Dorothy Dunnett was a Scottish writer and historian who believed that Macbeth and Thorfinn were the same person. She writes dense novels, full of allusions and sometimes self-referential. They repay repeated readings. King Hereafter is, in my opinion, her very best ever. The ending touches me every single time. It’s a book I read through and put down, then pick up a week later and start again. Who, me, obsessive?

Friday Christmas Foodie Five!! Yum!

The Friday Five from the RevGalBlogPals...time to eat!

NOTE: To Singing Owl--no, this is not my family. It's a nice photo, evocative of a certain time of year and of the previous century. Just to be clear about this.

1. Favourite cookie/candy/baked good without which, it's just not Christmas.

Now that is a tough one…my mother and I were just talking about Christmas baking the other day, and all the different recipes we used to make—cherry blinks, spritzen, lebkuchen, gingersnaps, candy canes, stockings (the latter two variations on sugar cookies), macaroons, and rum balls. I think I’d have to go with sugar cookies, Mexican wedding cakes or cream wafers. Recipes for the second two below.

2. Do you do a fancy dinner on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, both, or neither? (Optional: with whom will you gather around the table this year?)
I’m still in the process of re-creating a holiday tradition—between pastoring and a divorce, I haven’t done the same thing two years in a row for about five or six years. My vote, however, goes to what my family always did. Big dinner Christmas Eve (generally “roast beast,” as we called it, following the immortal Dr. Seuss), then opening one present, followed by the candlelight service at church. In the morning, presents with Mom’s cinnamon coffee cake, coffee and Mimosas (plus candy from our stockings), then church, with an open house all afternoon after church, with sausage, chips, crackers, cheese, dip, cookies, punch, etc. Then in the evening left-over roast beef sandwiches and a sugar coma.

This year DP is headed back to visit her children for Christmas, so I’ll be spending Christmas Eve with the church—pretty literally, with a service at 1:30 pm and then another at 11 pm, followed by a Chinese dinner (a tradition here). Christmas Day after worship, I’ve been invited to a brunch and then to a dinner. It’s sort of a progressive meal, hosted by two couples who are part of a circle DP and I are becoming closer to this year. They are all amazing cooks, so I’m really looking forward to those meals!


3. Evaluate one or more of the holiday beverage trifecta: hot chocolate, wassail, eggnog.
My personal favourite is eggnog, even if I can’t have the roaring traditional recipe I used to make—it called for a fifth of bourbon, rum and less than a dozen eggs. Cook those raw eggs with alcohol, baby! Now I generally get the pasteurized stuff at the store—it doesn’t taste at all the same (even if you add rum and bourbon), but it’s healthier. Sigh.

However, I do like hot spiced wine—in Germany, it’s called gluehwein, and I love the stuff. Again, it’s no good for me (red wine = migraine). Of course.

Hot chocolate is good and a comfort food, but I have it too often during the winter for it to be very Christmassy for me.

4. Candy canes: do you like all the new-fangled flavours or are you a peppermint purist?
A pox on fancy flavours! Peppermint is the real flavour!

5. Have you ever actually had figgy pudding? And is it really so good that people will refuse to leave until they are served it?
If it’s anything like my mom’s plum pudding, you betcha I’ll refuse to go until I get some! Lots, even!

Bonus item: the fruitcake. Feel free to add your thoughts on this most polarizing holiday confection.

Well…I confess I used to bake it. I helped my mom make it when I was young—chop the nuts, slice the citron and cherries, etc. She always made big batches of it for all her brothers and sisters. After they were baked (in early November), they were wrapped in rum-soaked cheesecloth (are we sensing a theme here?) and left to marinate for four weeks before being sent off around the country.

Because it seemed like a required part of Christmas, I baked it myself for the first four or five years after I left home. But then I realized I didn’t eat it, and neither did much of anyone else we had over at Christmas. So I stopped. Life is much better now.

By the way, re-reading this, it sounds like my childhood home was steeped in rum, drowned in champagne, and boiled in bourbon. That’s really and truly not the case! It’s just the holidays, that’s all.


Recipes!

Mexican Wedding Cakes
(I have no idea why they are called that. With the pecans, they should be called Texas wedding cakes, I think).

½ lb butter
2 cups flour
¼ cup sugar
1 cup pecans (chopped fine, but not to dust)
1 teaspoon vanilla
Confectioners sugar

Cream butter; add sugar and vanilla, beat until light and fluffy. Add flour and pecans, mix well. Roll in 1-inch balls and place 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350° for 18-20 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from cookie sheet and roll in confectioners sugar while still warm. Cool on wire rack.

These (and the next one) are great because they’re not terribly sweet, but very addictive. You can eat half a batch before you even realize you’re eating them.

Cream Wafers
1/3 cup cream
2 cups flour
1 cup butter
Mix into dough and chill at least thirty minutes. Roll 1/3 at a time, on lightly-floured board, keeping remaining dough chilled. Roll 1/8-inch thick and cut in 1 ½-inch circles (I use the top of a spice bottle). Coat both sides with granulated (not confectioners) sugar. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Prick once or twice with a fork. Bake at 325° for 8-10 minutes. Do not allow to brown. Put together, sandwich cookie-style, with filling.

Filling:
¼ cup soft butter
¾ cup confectioners sugar
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Food coloring if desired
Mix well.

Killer Eggnog
10 egg yolks
1 ¼ cup granulated sugar
½ cup light rum
2 cups milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 fifth bourbon
10 egg whites, beaten stiff
Beat yolks well; slowly fold sugar in. Very slowly add rum. Stir in milk and cream. Add bourbon slowly, and fold in egg whites. Chill well. Top with nutmeg. Hide the car keys.

And a special bonus recipe:
Hanukah Cheeseball
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
2 cups shredded gouda cheese
White wine

Mix together by hand (do not use blender or mixer); use just enough wine to allow the cheeses to blend. Chill. Shape into one large ball. Roll ball in paprika, coating it. Then roll in sesame seeds. Wrap in plastic and chill at least 8 hours. Serve with crackers. This also freezes well.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

For the Doubters Out There...

Just in case any of you doubted me a while ago, here's the S'mores Nativity Set!

Hurry, supplies are limited!

Order now and we'll add FREE fiberoptics!

Added Thursday December 21: I just now actually scrolled down to the post with the S'mores, and I had actually posted a picture already. That's what I get for laziness. On the other hand, in the current post (i.e., this one), you get a link THAT WORKED, BLOGGER, FOILED YOU THIS TIME! and a whole bunch of even odder nativity sets.

I want the timer.

Friday, December 15, 2006

A Christmas at the Movies...

The RevGalBlogPals Midwinter Meme is on Christmas movies. I haven’t really been one for the holiday theme in movies, but I’ll take a stab at this…

1) It's a Wonderful Life--Is it? Do you remember seeing it for the first time?
I don’t remember the first time I saw this movie, it’s been a part of my holidays for so long. I used to gather with relatives for Chinese food and It’s a Wonderful Life sometime in December—usually about this time, the last weekend or so before Christmas. It gave us a chance to get together without all the Christmas Eve/Day craziness, and yet be part of our Christmas. And Chinese food meant no one had to cook!

2) Miracle on 34th Street--old version or new?
Never seen either one. Sorry…

3) Do you have a favorite incarnation of Mr. Scrooge?
Alistair Sims, bar none. He IS Scrooge. Unless it’s my Dickens prof from undergraduate days, who read A Christmas Carol, in costume, every year to the assembled masses the night before fall (i.e. December) finals began.

4) Why should it be a problem for an elf to be a dentist? I've been watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer for years now, and I still don't get it.
Do elves have teeth? Maybe they don’t need dentists. Or maybe there’s an oversupply of dentists at the North Pole, and his parents wanted him to go into something more lucrative, like reindeer breeding or toy train design.

5) Who's the scariest character in Christmas specials/movies?

  • That Mean Magician Who Tries to Melt Frosty—I’m sorry, but I despise Frosty the Snowman.
  • Your Nomination—Mr Potter, in It’s a Wonderful Life.

My two favourite Christmas-flavour movies were not listed, however.

A Charlie Brown Christmas (yes, it all comes back to Snoopy at Christmas) and

The Vicar of Dibley's Christmas Lunch Incident .

In fact, I will probably spend Christmas Day afternoon curled up on the couch with salt 'n' vingar chips and these two movies. Ahhhhh....

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Procrastinating or Priming the Pump While Trying to Get the Sermon Written?

I was just looking at my newly redesigned blog (I upgraded to Beta Blogger, added a bunch of links, rearranged some things), and read my post from Monday.

Yikes! How could I have fallen so far, so fast? I had said I wanted to do a little bit on things every day so I wouldn’t be overwhelmed. I actually did that until Wednesday, when everything fell apart. Don’t ask me why—I was in the office all day, got lots of paperwork and other needed things done (worship planning for January, meeting with host church pastor about our joint Christmas Eve service, not to mention various correspondence). I tried to work on the sermon several times, but then I would realize that I hadn’t done X, which had to be done that day (deadline) or I needed to check on Y, since I was in the office. Etc. You know how it goes—someone calls, someone stops in, you realize you’re running out of time on something else…and the sermon gets put aside.

And yet, the sermon and worship are two of the most important things we, as pastors, do. We can farm out a lot of administrative tasks, we can delegate a deacon (or whatever the denominational title is) to do most visits and calls…but the sermon and worship, that’s ours. In my denomination, in fact, the pastor is solely responsible for worship. No one else can dictate what to do during the worship service. The pastor can delegate music selection, for example, and get suggestions and input from a worship team, but the final decisions are the pastor’s.

I may rethink my weekly routine. Right now, I have Mondays off (theoretically), Tuesdays and Wednesdays are office hours, Thursdays I have appointments and meetings and work on the sermon, and Friday I work on the sermon as well as whatever else needs to be done that hasn’t been done. And Saturday usually finds me here, working on my sermon with the other RevGalBlogPals at the weekly preacher’s party.…

I’m thinking I’d like to change that. Maybe this schedule will work: Monday still my day off; Tuesday a sermon day, not an office day; Wednesday office day; Thursday office day; Friday sermon and clean-up day. Maybe if I set aside a day early in the week to do nothing but the sermon, I can get more done on it before the craziness catches up to me.

And the New Year is coming (yes, there is life after Christmas!)—new year, new Board, new schedule. It’s worth a shot, I think. All I know is that I’m tired of feeling like I’ve shorted the sermon preparation time, when it is one of the core things I do. I’m also tired of making resolutions—here in my blog, to my family, to myself—and then not being able to follow through. I know some of it is a matter of trial and error, and refining this and that to put together what works for me, and I know it doesn’t have to happen overnight—but I want it to! God, give patience, and right now!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Christmas Songs of Advents Past…

The post title doesn't really fit what I ended up writing, but I like it so much I'm keeping it anyway...

My usual Friday Five from the RevGalBlogPals… This week we’re talking Christmas music!

1. A favourite 'secular' Christmas song.
This one is actually difficult—most of my favourites are “sacred”—or at least semi-sacred, in that they actually talk about Jesus and angels instead of holly and presents and eggnog. Hmmm..."It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas," for its evocation of New York City, and "White Christmas," just 'cause.

2. Christmas song that chokes you up (maybe even in spite of yourself--the cheesier the better).
“Mary, Did You Know?” and “Little Drummer Boy”—both of them in spite of myself,cause I think I cry too easily. And that drummer boy--cheese, indeed.

3. Christmas song that makes you want to stuff your ears with chestnuts roasted on an open fire.
“I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” with “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” running a very close second. And “Jingle Bell Rock” is in contention, too.

4. The Twelve Days of Christmas: is there *any* redeeming value to that song? Discuss.
Well, you probably know that it was supposed to be a mnemonic for various Christian items—four calling birds = four gospels, five gold rings = Christ’s five wounds, twelve lords a leaping = twelve disciples, partridge in a pear tree = Crucifixion, “true love” = God, etc. Notice I say "supposed" to be. If you strain really hard you can make 'em match up to something, but you can do that with anything. Bible Code, anyone? That and the bragging value of remembering all twelve items without a cheat sheet (although some call that OCD).

5. A favourite Christmas album.
Mannheim Steamroller’s “Christmas in the Aire,” and “Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration.” I could listen to them for a month. Wait, I do!


Postscript:

I forgot—how could I?—one of my all-time favorites! “Snoopy’s Christmas!” Look here for the words and a midi. Something about the combination of the chorus—“Christmas bells, those Christmas bells,/ ring out from the land/Asking peace of all the world/And good will to man,” which I love—and the Red Baron saying “Merry Christmas, my friend!” in a pseudo-German accent, which tickles me, makes it a favourite.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Procrastination, Thy Name is Pastor!

Monday! Yay!

I am going to be doing my best to take today off. I managed to put in more than 40 hours last week (theoretically, I’m part-time, at 20 hours a week). So I slept in, read my email in a leisurely fashion, browsed through some blogs, took the trivia quiz, and had a lazy breakfast, including finishing a book I want to give my mother. I’ve started the laundry, too.

According to the church musician, who also plays for a local Presbyterian church, this is the year of the Sabbath (at least for Canadian Presbyterians; the rest of us may be out of luck). Well, darn it, I’m going to do my best to take part in this whole Sabbath thing! That’s taking a day to rest, right?

Can someone explain that to me?

I’m sure trying it today. Oh, I’m not totally ignoring the church—this time of year there’s too much going on, between Advent and Christmas preparations, our congregation’s annual meeting (yesterday and it went well, thank you), and preparing for next year (yes, I really am still working on the readings—more on that in a moment). But I’m using it for things that I’ll enjoy doing, that I want to do—that and professional reading. I have a stack of articles and books about a foot high, and I think if I take this afternoon and work on it, I could reduce it to eight inches.

What I think I’m discovering is that I have to do a little bit on everything everyday. If I wait to do something, or put it off in favour of something else I’d rather do, it backs up and becomes a huge chore. Sort of like cleaning the refrigerator, another chore I have to work on doing regularly… So, for the sermon, for example, instead of selecting my reading on Tuesday, doing all my research and rough draft on Friday, or Saturday, and polishing on Sunday morning (on a good week), I want to have the reading already chosen, and possibly the call to worship as well. Then Tuesday I take notes, Wednesday I pull some themes together, Thursday and Friday I write, and if I need to, then I’ve got Saturday as well. If I take half-an-hour every day to read an article, or to make a couple of phone calls, then it won’t be so overwhelming. Little bits at a time, you know?

Part of this plan for the new year is the scheme I talked about at the Saturday sermon party. For those of you who had prior commitments, my plan is to put together a schedule/calendar of the readings I’ll use for the year (or at least the first six months), including reminders for events like the church’s anniversary, membership classes (and thus reception of new members), Sundays I would like to take off, Sundays when we could have a guest preacher (besides when I’m gone), and so on. A partner plan to this is one I’ve mentioned a mentoring pastor had—she took two days or so every three months and wrote out outlines for her sermons for the next three months. That way, she had at least an outline, if everything fell apart one week (a funeral, three members in the hospital, six meetings and a partridge in a pear tree). If it didn’t fall apart, she had a reward for planning ahead, and if she wanted to, she could completely redo it. But in case of an emergency, she at least had something.

And I think that’s a big chunk of being able to rest, really rest on a day off--peace of mind. I know part of the reason I have a hard time taking a day of rest is that I keep thinking of all the things I could be doing, that need to be done, that only I can do. Right now, I have the schedule, minutes from a community meeting I attended last week, and preparations for a meeting tonight in my mind as things to do this morning. If I can get into the mindset of doing things a little at a time, then they won’t be so overwhelming and I won’t procrastinate so much. And if I can get things done a bit ahead, then I won’t feel so much pressure and so much anxiety.

That’s my theory, and I’m sticking to it. For now, anyway. Of course, the other question is, how in the world do I find the time to get ahead? Little bits, right?

Friday, December 01, 2006

World AIDS Day

Today is the observance of World AIDS Day.

We’ve been observing this day for so long, I don’t know what to say that I haven’t said fifty times before.

I could talk about my many friends and colleagues who are HIV+ or who have sero-converted and have full-blown AIDS. I could talk about my friends who work in AIDS clinics and other AIDS organizations, supporting people who are HIV+ or living with AIDS (PWAs). I could talk about the effects of HIV/AIDS around the world, how it devastates communities, regions, and nations, leaving a younger generation to fend for themselves. I could talk about how the highest increase in rate of infection is among black women. I could take on the whole controversy about the “down low” or the one on abstinence education.

Or I could put a cheerier face on it, and talk about the medications developed in recent years, that make it possible to really live with AIDS. I could mention the many agencies that have been created specifically for PWAs. I could say that most cities now have policies in place to care for residents who are HIV+/PWAs, if not speciality AIDS clinics in city hospitals, and that AIDS patients are no longer relegated to the back rooms of hospitals.

But I’m tired. Tired of hearing that AIDS is a “gay” disease, an “African” disease, a “white” disease, a “city” disease—in other words, not “our” problem, whoever “we” are. I’m tired of hearing that conditions are beyond repair in parts of Africa; tired of hearing that “we can’t talk about condoms, the government will shut us down;” tired of hearing that needle exchanges encourage drug use.

It’s way beyond time to stop finger pointing, stop arguing over whose “fault” the high rate of infections is, stop denying reality, and get some of God’s work done—comfort the afflicted, heal the sick, support the dying—to love one another as Christ loved us.

Never forget those we have lost; never give up working to support PWAs; never give up working for a cure.

Friday Meme Time…

It’s Friday, and you know what means (at least you do if you’ve been in RP-land on a Friday or two)—Meme Time!

This week, honouring the first Sunday of Advent, it’s an Advent meme from the RevGalBlogPals.

Here we go:

1) Do you observe Advent in your church?
Oh, yes. We have to do a lot of explaining, because many people come from a tradition that didn’t celebrate Advent so much, or didn’t use Advent wreaths. But most people seem to like it, especially the young ones! For me, it's a way to stave off Christmas until Christmas. Advent is an important season of the church year all on its own, darn it!

2) How about at home?
When I was growing up, we did—greens from the cedar bushes out front, candles in the star-shaped crystal holders, all on a round tray—and when I lived in Germany, the florists and gift shops had gorgeous ones, with crystals and pearl beads and bows and ribbons—all quite flammable, I’m sure. So of course I had to have one every year. More recently, life hasn’t been organized enough for an advent wreath. That, and somehow my agnostic ex-husband ended up with the Lenox crystal Advent wreath base…

3) Do you have a favourite Advent text or hymn?
The Magnificat and O Come O Come Emmanuel. I’m a traditionalist, sometimes.

4) Why is one of the candles in the Advent wreath pink? (You may tell the truth, but I'll like your answer better if it's funny.)
Because the blue faded?

5) What's the funniest/kitschiest Advent calendar you've ever seen?
Either the S’Mores* one or the one with Santa kneeling at the manger. Kitsch!
My favourite was one with Mary, Joseph, and Jesus under a pine tree, with all the woodland animals gathered around—a cougar, a wood duck, a deer family, etc. Sort of a National Wildlife Advent calendar.

*Odd kitsch-critters purporting to be snowmen, shaped like…well, like s’mores treats. That is, two marshmallows on a graham cracker with a square of chocolate. Yummy. But these creatures are the s’more just before it’s all squished together. Oh, heck. I’ll try to find a photo.

Here we are, all seasonal and everything...


Santa and angel S'mores


An ornament for your tree...



And the ultimate S'mores accessory....



Your very own Smores Nativity scene!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

It's Been a Few Days...

Life has been absolutely chaos the last week. The church is having several crises, most minor, but one major. It's not going to close the church down, but it's going to be difficult and very ugly for a while.

They say you're not really succeeding as a pastor until you've p*ssed someone off...

Look, Ma, I'm a success! (Sarcasm off)

Please keep us in your prayers.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

On a Lighter Note...

My last few posts have been serious. And well they should be, given the subjects.

But before I go to spend a few days with the 'rent, and to be a 'rent, I thought I'd have some fun.
As LutheranChick mentioned yesterday, whatever happened to all the memes we used to post for each other?

Herewith, a meme for Christian music lovers! My responses are below.

1. What is your favourite "praise chorus?" At what point in the service (if any) is your congregation likely to use them?

2. Taize. Discuss.

3. Rutter, Bach, or Jars of Clay for the anthem this Sunday?

4. How do you and your musician share the selection of music for worship? How do each of you locate music (hymns, anthems, responses, etc.) for worship?

5. What is the one part of worship you would never set to music? Alternatively, what is the one part of worship you cannot imagine without music?

Bonus question: What is your favourite minor chord?

RP's responses:
1. What is your favourite "praise chorus?" At what point in the service (if any) is your congregation likely to use them? My favourite (and I'm not sure why) is "Let Us Break Bread Together," which some of you may not even consider a praise chorus! We use them (if at all) as a medley for the opening hymn or during Communion (while the congregation is taking Communion).

2. Taize. Discuss. I've heard a lot about Taize, and sung some of the choruses that are in the United Methodist hymnal, but that's about all i know. The ones that I do know I love, because they are so meditative, and conducive to prayer.

3. Rutter, Bach, or Jars of Clay for the anthem this Sunday? For me, any and all of the above. I truly love, love, love John Rutter. I know he doesn't really consider himself a Christian composer, but his music is so moving. His Requiem can bring me to tears. Bach is, well, Bach. And Jars of Clay (used here as a place-marker for any contemporary Christian group) can be as powerful and moving as anything I've heard. Can be.

4. How do you and your musician share the selection of music for worship? How do each of you locate music (hymns, anthems, responses, etc.) for worship? Our musician selects most of the music. He's had years of experience in the denomination (helped create our hymnal), and has a broad knowledge of church music in general. So I let him do most of it--if I have a hymn or song in mind that fits especially well, I'll suggest it and it will be either the opening/closing hymn or the "response hymn" sung right after the sermon. I find things by serendipity. Our musician has a more organized approach, I suspect, although I've never asked him.

5. What is the one part of worship you would never set to music? Alternatively, what is the one part of worship you cannot imagine without music? Ah, yes. We have a sacred cow here, called the sung Prayer that Jesus Taught Us. For variety's sake, if nothing else, we (meaning the music director and I) would like to not sing it sometimes, or use a different tune, but the only time we can get away with changing it is during Lent, when we speak it instead of singing it. Otherwise you would think we were committing sacrilege by not singing it or changing the tune... But that's the congregation. I personally can't imagine not singing the Doxology. Probably everything else could be spoken, but the Doxology needs to be sung. And, conversely, everything else can be sung, too--we've used sung calls to worship, prayers of the people (sung response), Communion consecration, of course, benedictions...pretty much everything. I've used music in the sermon, too, of course.

Bonus question: What is your favourite minor chord? E Flat. Seriously, I'm not enough of a music theorist to know the difference, but I found the website LC posted to be just spooky. Are there really people out there who think the Debil will get to them through their ears and not their hearts? Apparently so.


Leave a comment if you play!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Transgender Day of Remembrance

Monday, November 20, is the Transgender Day of Remembrance, a time to remember the lives lost to ignorance and hatred, the lives of transgendered people who have been murdered simply because they were brave enough to speak truth to the world.

To be clear and honest about this: I am not transgendered, so understand that I am speaking as an ally, a friend, not an expert or from my own transgendered experience. I do not speak for trans people, of course—and to my trans friends, I apologize in advance for over-simplifying, for leaving out some of the complexities, for not speaking to all the difficulties and complications. I speak, again, as an ally, from my friendships and my love for my transgendered friends of all genders. You know who you are—thank you for your presence in my life. You have been my partners in crime, my inspirations, my role models, my refuge from time to time, and most of all, my beloved friends.

I have many transgendered friends—they are transwomen, FTM, genderqueer, transmen, androgynous, pre-op, MTF, transitioning, post-op, transitioned, never planning to transition. Without exception, they are some of the strongest, wisest, most grounded, and self-aware people I know. They know who they are; they have fought and struggled and worked hard to be who they are—and they are beautiful, every one of them. All the extraneous “stuff” is being burned away, and the refined gold is left--because of course, it's a continuing process. They know who they are, they have worked hard to be the person God wants them to be, and they aren’t going to let anyone take it away from them. They’re not perfect, of course—they’d be the first to tell you that—but as John Wesley would say, they are going on to perfection, with God’s help.

But my particular friends are, in many ways, the blessed ones, the ones who have been able to work through it all to a place of relative safety—relative only, of course, since there is never absolute safety for those who are different form society’s strict categories. They were able, with a struggle, but able nonetheless, to get the education, the therapy, the surgery, the employment, the treatment, the relationship, the sacred space of church or temple or synagogue that allowed them to speak truth. Many others aren’t so blessed.

Humans tend to dislike what they do not understand—which may have had its uses back in the stone age, but it is a trait that has out-lived its usefulness. The vast majority of people expect another person to be identifiable as a man or a woman, and when another person is not readily identifiable as one or the other, frustration and anger often set in. If the other person seems to be deliberately trying to “fool” them, their anger increases. Thus the butch lesbian and the drag queen are attacked; cross-dressers are mocked by emergency medical personnel and young transgendered women (transwomen) are placed in the men’s section of jails, where they are beaten and raped.

You have doubtless heard of some of the more famous cases of transphobia resulting in murder—Brandon Teena, Gwen Araujo, and others. But for every one of the famous ones, for every one who is killed, there are countless others who are harassed on a daily basis; who cannot use a public washroom for fear of being violently ejected and even arrested if they use the “wrong” one; who are kicked out of school, jobs, church and home; who are referred to as “it” by medical personnel, prison officials and teachers; refused entry into emergency shelters because they do not “fit” into either the men’s shelter or the women’s shelter; and told they are “sick” by the world in general.

In spite of it all, they continue, as a group, to march forward, insisting on their humanity, on the presence of God within themselves and their relationships. In many of our theologies, we make the claim that God is beyond gender, both and neither male or female. If we understand our God to be both and neither, why then can we not accept fellow human beings who are also both and neither? Take some time this week to think about those you know or may have heard of, who are transgendered, and pray, as I will be praying, that you may have the courage they have shown, to live their own truthful, beautiful lives.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Friday Five—What I’m Thankful For…Version

Please note: these are in no particular order. In fact, the ones further down the list may be closer to my heart, because they took longer to surface…

1. My retreat last month (was it only last month?). I will say it again (and again, and again, and again)—take a solitary retreat. I had six days; five would have been enough, three would have been too short. A day to settle in, a day to begin surfacing, and two or three days to just be. The best things I took away from it were that schedules are not as important as I think they are and neither are to-do lists; I can read indefinitely long if provided a comfortable place and plenty of iced tea or coffee; sometimes it’s OK to just sit and stare out the window. So I give thanks for my retreat, Jeremiah House, GilChrist Retreat Centre, and John and Debbie (the caring staff).

2. My health. Overall, it’s pretty good. Yes, I could lose some weight, and I will never have 20/20 vision, but otherwise I’m doing OK—internal parts all functioning properly. When I think of friends and family members who have chronic illnesses and physical issues, and the effect it has on their lives (and personalities), from HIV/AIDS to cancer to high blood pressure to hernias to you-name-it, I am thankful that I am healthy.

3. Friends. This was brought home to me by the recent conference I attended. Some of the friends I spent time with were people I have known for a long time—we’ve shared meals, tears, joys, frustrations, hotel rooms, classes, our homes. Some of them I had only “talked” with via email. Some I had met and shared a meeting or meal or coffee with at another conference, and we had touched each others' heart--but then we hadn’t had any contact until the next conference. But it was as if we had seen each other a month ago, not two years. And some friends I made I didn’t know were even on the planet until that weekend.

There’s an item that’s gone around the Internet, Friend for a Reason or a Season. Sometimes your friendship with someone lasts for a lifetime; sometimes it’s for a few months or a couple of years. But no matter how long it lasts, each person comes into your life for a reason, even if it’s only for a season. I think of the friend whom I met when I was just beginning to come out; he led me, encouraged me, and supported me through that process. We are no longer in regular contact now; but he will always have a place in my heart, and I, I hope, will have one in his. He was a friend for a reason, for a season. Some of these friends at conference and elsewhere in my life are like that—warm and intense as the friendship was, it will not last. Others will last—and will become even deeper and richer with time. Both kinds of friendship enrich our lives. I am thankful for all my friends.

4. My son. There are many things in my life that I would change if I could, but he is not one of them. It was an incredible experience watching him grow up—and seeing some traits stay the same over time, morphing to fit the age (from Disney videos to SimCity to PS2…). He is an amazing young man, intelligent, attractive, articulate and funny. TO is a joy to me, and the saddest thing about moving to Canada was moving so far from him. I miss him every day.

5. My call to ministry. It hasn’t been easy, but as a wise person once said, the best things in life rarely are. That call has led me on an amazing journey, deeper into my own heart and in a closer relationship with the One who called me. I was given every chance to refuse and turn away from the call, but somehow…well, you all know how it is. And while I have doubted myself, sometimes even doubted my call, I have never regretted responding and embarking on this wild voyage!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

What Makes RP See Red (this week)...

By popular demand (well, sort of…), here is my expanded version of what makes me see red.

Ignorance in charge of other people’s lives and freedom.

I think I’ll focus on that one for now. But where do I start? Let me begin with an easy one.

Ignorance: Some people will tell you there’s really no reason for same-sex couples to want marriage, that they can get all those benefits through wills and such, that same-sex couple just want the name of marriage for the prestige, to be just like different-sex couples.

Oh, really? Tell that to the man whose partner had stipulated in his will that he was not to be buried in the family plot but in the plot he and his partner had chosen. His family was able to bring suit for him to be buried where he did not want to be--luckily, the judge ruled in favour of the will and the partner and the deceased’s expressed wishes. Wills are continually contested, they cannot cover benefits (like veteran’s benefits and Social Security), which are regulated by law, and they are not usually settled until well after the person’s death—by which time the ones contesting it may have marched off with all the deceased’s belongings. Ever seen “If These Walls Could Talk 2”? It details the three generations of lesbian lives lived within a single house. The first segment, set in the early 1960’s, is about two women who have lived together for many years until one of them passes away suddenly and her nephew comes to claim the house. It will break your heart—and it is still all too true.

And the lack of marriage rights hurts same-sex couples when they’re both living, too—everything from being able to file taxes as a married couple to getting health benefits, to child custody laws to having both their names on the title to the home….every one of those things matters, financially and emotionally, and in many states of the US, same-sex couples cannot do those things. Opposite-sex married couples don’t even think about it—and that’s the point. It’s automatic—you’re married, you get it. Unless, of course, you and your partner are the same sex. Then you’re out of luck, no matter how long you have been together, or whether you have raised children together, owned a home together, been through illness and job loss together.

The love and commitment of two same-sex people who want to be married is no less than that of two different-sex people. I can attest to this personally, having officiated at more than 25 same-sex marriages. But some ignorant people want you to think it is less, that same-sex relationships are all about sex, and there is no commitment between same-sex couples. Tell that to the ones who have been together 15, 25, 35 and 50 years. It’s about the relationship, not the body parts involved.

Let’s change gears from same-sex marriage to another legal issue—birth certificates.

For transgender people, legal identification is a huge issue. A person can be physically hurt or even killed, not merely insulted or hassled (which is bad enough) if the sex on their ID does not match their gender presentation (the gender they appear to be, based on dress, hair style, etc.). So the correct sex on the birth certificate, needed for so many other forms of identification to be issued or changed, is supremely important for them. Some municipalities require that transgender people provide a certificate of surgery before they will issue a new birth certificate; this is difficult for many trans people, since it takes years to get the surgery (partly for medical reasons, partly because they have to save for it, since insurance won’t cover it); and some trans people simply don’t want all the surgery that the municipalities require (especially female-to-male—FTM—trans people, because the surgery is so difficult and unrefined currently). So some trans people are partly transitioned, and may need to have identification that matches their target gender, not their biological gender. Not to mention that many clinics require their patients to live for a time (anywhere from three months to a year) full-time as the target gender before the surgery is approved. And so if they are going to travel, they have to go through airport security either dressed in a way that is a lie to them, although it matches their (unchanged) identification; or they pray the police officer who stops them doesn’t notice the disparity; or they dress in a neutral way. And they have to fear on the subway, in church, shopping, in the bars, on the street…because their identification doesn’t match who they seem to be.

Both of these—same-sex marriage and transgender identification—are about a choice between living a truth that is inconvenient and uncomfortable for the rest of the world, or living a lie called a closet that doesn’t bother anyone else, but that can lead to depression, psychological self-mutilation and even suicide for yourself. It’s about having to one day face God and say, “I wanted to live my truth, but when I tried to live as you created me, I was threatened—with rejection, ridicule, ostracism, violence, even death.” It’s about having the courage to face down the world that doesn’t want to even acknowledge that you exist, that would rather you stay in a corner, in the dark, remain the Other. It’s about being who God created you to be.

God is truth; and the truth will set us free.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Friday Five: Red, Blue, and Purple!

It’s Friday, I’m in town and have a few minutes, and so here we have the RevGalBlogPals Friday Five!

1. Favourite red food: Strawberries. On angelfood cake, on ice cream, dipped in chocolate, as jam or jelly, just by themselves, hands down favourite red food.

2. Tell us about the bluest body of water you've ever seen in person. Lake Erie, believe it or not, from Point Pelee (http://www.canadianparks.com/ontario/ppelenp/index.htm) late one afternoon. The atmospheric conditions must have been just right, because I have never seen a bluer body of water. Dark, dark blue, like a sapphire. Lovely.

3. It's movie rental time: Blue Planet, The Color Purple, or Crimson Tide? THe Color Purple, hands down. One of my favourites anyway, and certainly of those three!

4. What has you seeing red these days? Oooh, do we have that much time? OK, I’ll boil it down: 1. Intolerance claiming its right to exist as religious freedom. 2. Ignorance in charge of other people’s lives and freedom. 3. Deception as a way of life. If I get a chance, I may expand on these later. (You have been warned!)

5. What or who picks you up when you're feeling blue? Three things: comfort fiction, journaling and walks. Reading something I know and love—Jane Austen and the Brontes spring to mind—allows my mind to work on whatever has me upset on one level (a lower level, sort of subconscious) while I don’t have to think about it for a while on the surface. Journaling and walking both let me “talk it out”—mentally or on the computer. Walking has the advantage of exercise, and if I’m really upset, I can walk faster. Journaling, on the other hand, helps me put into words what I’m feeling, which gives me perspective, and sometimes gives me a solution. If nothing else, I can vent and pour out my sad/angry/frustrated/petty/whining emotions elsewhere than on my family and friends.

Bonus response (not requested but extra credit is always good): Red letter days recently included an amazing conference worship service on Sunday(friends, worship, Communion, the Holy Spirit--what could be better?), dinner with good friends tonight, and last week, the discovery of an almost perfect beer--"Final Absolution," a Belgian-style lager from Dragonmead Brewery in Warren, Michigan (famous as the former home of a tank plant). There's a reason it won a gold medal at the world beer competition!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Taking the Leap!

Well, I’m back from my conference—three and a half days of amazing workshops, a mini-retreat, friendships new and renewed and expanded, and a testing of my energy and stamina.

As I’ve mentioned, I volunteered to coordinate the worship assistants for the entire conference—the Communion servers and holders and the ushers. You know, there are a lot of logistics involved with that! How do we get Communion to the choir? How about taking up the offering from the choir? How do we get Communion to the people doing the counting of the offering (which, of course, comes right before Communion)? What about getting the Communion elements down from the altar to the holders (they hold the Communion elements while the servers serve the congregation and say the blessing for each person)? How do I find enough of each of those? Luckily, I had many volunteers and when I didn’t have as many people as I thought I needed, the ones I did have pitched in and did what had to be done.

A wonderful side-effect—or maybe it wasn’t a side-effect, but one of the main reasons for the conference—was the affirmation, the support, from my colleagues (shout-out to Rev. Dona here! Thanks for the props!) and our regional elders (roughly = bishop). I don’t think I’m a particularly bright star in the denomination’s firmament, but from the compliments and thanks I received, you would think I was the next best thing. I even had my hands kissed! It was the kind of balm I know my ego needed, and I don’t think I’m the only one who had come there bruised and tired. One friend said she felt better than she had in weeks—and she had been on vacation only a couple of weeks before! The mood of friends and co-worshipers on Sunday morning was much more relaxed, joyful and hopeful than on Thursday evening.

One of the workshop presenters made a point that was a real aha! moment for me. He pointed out that most of our congregants (in the UFMCC), were hurting and battered, psychologically and spiritually. In a mainline church, the proportion is much lower. So much of our work, as pastors in MCC churches, is working with badly hurt people. Unlike many others who work with hurting people, such as chaplains and psychologists and psychiatrists, we don’t have the support and institutional protections and requirements for self-care. We really are at higher risk for burn-out and damage ourselves. As an aside, the same presenter pointed out that most of the people who come through our doors for the first time are already giving church a second chance, having been made to feel unwelcome, despised, or evil in other churches. We cannot fail them. And thus, of course, we have more pressure on us. Listening to all this, I began to understand why my colleagues in UFMCC seem to suffer greater stress than my former colleagues in the UMC. Part of that may also be due to the job security in the UMC, but that’s another issue (UMC pastors are appointed, UFMCC pastors are called by the congregation).

As a result of these few days, I can see many changes I want to make, things I want to do—not all of them easy, and some will get me grief. But I believe they are all things I am called to do as the pastor, and/or that this congregation is called to do. We need, as a congregation, to take that leap of faith and make a difference. Rev. Dona (http://revdonaquixote.blogspot.com/ ) talks about cliff divers. She and I both have plans to take a leap of faith off those cliffs—but in keeping with the covenant of Christian community, we’re jumping together!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Wandering off to Conference....

I have been very neglectful of my blog in the last couple of weeks, leaving my readers high and dry—my apologies to all five of you!

Tomorrow DP and I leave for our Regional Conference (she is the lay delegate), so I will definitely not be blogging until I return, early next week.

Nonetheless I am sure I will come back with tales to tell! I am coordinating worship assistants during the conference, and helped put together one of the worship services, so even though I’m not preaching this week, I’ll as busy as if I were!

So I’m off to worship with old friends, retreat and conference with new ones, and hopefully get some time to relax as well.

A word in advance of late Saturday night---If you have a dog, walk it proud!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Friends and self-care

Ever have times when you were so busy you barely had time for a meal, when you went right back to your office/study after an evening meeting to finish a project, when you barely had time to breathe, when your laundry piled up, the houseplants wilted for lack of water and the dishes piled up in the dishwasher (because you didn’t even have time to turn it on)?

That’s where I am. I’m not going to list the many meetings, projects, and so on that I have deadlines for in the next four days…but rest assured, I don’t think I’ll have much free time for the next ten days.

Which is why I’m planning to take tonight off. A good dinner, a little Jeopardy, some light reading and bed early. It’s what I need to get through the next few days!

Lest you think I’m a very grounded person who always knows what she needs and takes it, let me say that this wouldn’t be happening if not for a letter from a friend of mine that arrived today. He is ill, chronically so, and had not been taking care of himself. But one day he realized that he probably wasn’t going to die that week, or even that month, and if he was going to live for a while, he might want to do so in a state of as much health as he could muster. And so he made some changes in his life, not the least of which is pulling back on activities, taking evenings to himself, taking care of himself.

What was so wonderful about his letter is that he thanked me for writing to him while I was on retreat (his letter was in response to mine), for taking the time while I was at a place where he would love to be, to think of him and write.

There is grace. Not only the warmth of our reconnection, but his openness, his honesty in confessing his need, his shortcomings (as he sees them), and to thank me for hearing him into speech, when I have long felt that he was the one encouraging me to grow and change and become what I needed to be.

There is the true agape love—helping each other to grow in love for ourselves, for God, in service to God, and in love for others. There is no part of our relationship that is self-serving—if he receives support from me, so do I receive encouragement from him. When I needed a good slap upside the head, he gave it to me. When he tends to neglect himself, I (unwittingly, in this instance), remind him that he is not the only one who cares about him. And so on.

I cherish him, and our friendship. I’ll be seeing him soon, and I’m saying this now, here in my blog, so I won’t forget or decide it really isn’t important—I will tell him how very important he is to me, and how much I treasure our friendship.

If you have a friend like that—your partner, spouse, friend—be sure to tell them how much you treasure them. I know we hear that all the time, but have you done it? If you haven’t said it recently, try it. They need to know, and so do you.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Friday Five--Word Association

Back into the routine--Friday means the RevGalBlogPals Friday Five meme. This week it's word association time!

Whirlwind: Tornado, probably much like the one in The Wizard of Oz. Brownish grey, spinning...dusty, too.

Foundation: Solid; cement, building. Interestingly enough, I don't automatically think of foundation in the sense of a non-profit benevolent-type organization, in spite of the fact that I have worked with them a lot.

Lightning: A flash of lightning, against a dark sky.

Den: A safe place, a cozy place; almost a nest, but underground.

Prey: Here's the odd thing--I think of a predator. What is up with my mind, that I think of the opposite? Say "prey," and I get a mental picture of a wolf or hawk.

Well, there's a sense of dynamicism there, for sure--of movement, witht he lightning and the whirlword--and even with foundation and den, there's the idea of settling in from movement, of coming to rest.

I can't explain the prey thing at all. And I'm not sure I want to know.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Personality DNA

Well, since I understand that to be truly KEWL, I must have my personality DNA on my blog, here it is (at least I hope it works)...

I am, as you can see, a Benevolent Creator.

Oddly enough, I am, according to these folks, extremely feminine, and barely masculine. Anyone who knows me is now howling with laughter. I have been known to wear a dress, but mostly at Halloween. The last time I wore makeup was at Easter to demonstrate a "complete change." I have never been mistaken for a "lady" and high heels make me uneasy. If I can't do something myself, I find an expert who can, but I'd rather figure it out on my own than have someone do it for me (except DP, but she's special).

'Course, they do have my spontaneity level pegged--way low. I like a schedule, darn it. I do try to be spontaneous, but, but, but can we plan it for Saturday, please?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Back in Harness

It's amazing how quickly the old routines fall back into place...

The serenity of my retreat is still with me, however. It's amazing to feel so centred and grounded, to be able to do so much and not feel hurried or harassed. Attitude and the Spirit both have something to do with that, I think!

Still basking...

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Home again...

Last week I was on retreat.

I saw:

  • Beautiful colours of autumn against a solid blue sky
  • A doe and her half-grown fawn (they live behind the cabin I was staying in, so I saw them several times)
  • A wild tom turkey (which I almost hit, because he dashed into the road…)
  • A red-tailed hawk (only ten feet away, outside my window)
  • Snow in early October!!

I also:

  • Meditated for most of Sunday
  • Missed DP and the pets
  • Walked a labyrinth
  • Stayed up to midnight without feeling guilty
  • Read several books (some for fun, some for the book, and one “professional” book)
  • Had three fires in the fireplace
  • Outlined a book of my own
  • Ate healthily
  • Walked almost every day
  • Journaled regularly


GilChrist (the retreat centre) is a wonderful place. I can highly recommend it as a place for a solitary retreat or for a small group retreat (I don’t think they can hold more than about 12-15 people at the most). After I was greeted and given a tour and taken to my cabin (Jeremiah House; somehow very appropriate!), I was pretty much left alone. If I wanted to wander about and speak to other people, I was welcome to do so—but no one came by to invite me to the various activities at the main building (I had been told about them) or to “check up” on me. I had said I was doing a solitary retreat and they respected that—my solitude, my silence, and my space.


Jeremiah House was just about big enough for a table, two chairs, a small kitchen, a bed and a dresser, with a fireplace/chimney in the middle, and a bathroom to one side. I also had a lovely small sun porch. The table stood in a tiny bay window overlooking the meadow where the deer played and the mist flowed in the morning like an ocean. All around the cabin were woods, with wrens, chipmunks, jays, nuthatches, turkeys, deer and raccoons, all feeling safe.

I wrote, I read, I slept, I meditated, I stared into space, I simply was—for a whole week.

And now I pray that the serenity with which I returned will remain with me for a long time.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

On Retreat

Well, I've done what I can for regional conference worship, I've packed up my stuff (in my old kit bag...), I've got the books I want to refer to, I've got my special coffee and tea (due to the international border, I have to purchase the rest of my food for the week over there), and I think I'm ready to go.

Bless each of you this weekend and next week as you prepare to preach and lead services, as you discern God's call, as you rest and refresh, and as you do all the other activities this busy group does!

I'm going on retreat!

Preaching with the Holy Spirit


Browsing around to try to get a start on the sermon for next week, I ran across this ">article on pastoral plagiarism.

What the original writer seems to be saying is that we cannot trust to the Spirit, that we have to have “the best sermon” at all costs, and the end justifies the means.

Well, that brings up some questions for me.

  • How do we decide who “the best” preachers are? Even those we often think of as great speakers and preachers had off days; are all their sermons to be considered equally “great?” And is it really a good idea to elevate these people to the level of the only ones who can preach?
  • What does this say about our own arrogance? Do we really think that people only hear what we say, or do we believe that the Spirit speaks through us, in spite of us?
  • Preaching, I discovered before I even left seminary (thank you, Jesus!), is not always or even usually about educating the congregation, but about the preacher learning something from the passage in question. If we only use what others have said, we lose that gift of study and learning the Words of God. Where does that leave us?

I’m with Ray Van Neste on this one—we preachers have to trust in the Spirit to convey the truth of God to the congregation, over time, in spite of ourselves. If we use another person’s words, we are not true to ourselves, or to the gospel. Does it really make sense to preach a sermon written for, say, a rural majority-white congregation in Ohio in 1990 to an urban congregation of mostly African-Americans in Philadelphia in 2006? Of course not! And yet that’s what Steve Sjogren seems to be saying.

This is troubling. Are we so afraid of not “hitting a home run” that we cannot trust the Spirit? Are we really putting things of the world (a “successful” sermon, whatever that is) ahead of divine inspiration?

I thank God for the example of the friends and blogpals on this ring, who every week gather at a virtual sermon-writing party, difficult and stressful as it is, to pull out another sermon from our hearts and spirits, praying for the Spirit to breathe life into it, that it may rise up and show God to our congregations.

In the immortal words of Songbird and the other 11th Hour hosts:

  • The Holy Spirit has your back.
  • If you’ve got a dog, walk it proud.